On a day of near-upsets, Norway's dynamic duo of Tore and the Hobbit Wizard almost cast a spell on Slovakia in the final game of Tuesday's qualification round.
Norway's Tore Vikingstad and Mats Zuccarello Aasen -- two-thirds of the team's top line -- combined with goalie Pal Grotnes, a carpenter on an Olympic scholarship, to put the scare of a lifetime into the Slovaks at Canada Hockey Place.
Eventually, though, Slovakia's Miroslav Satan delivered his team from the precipice of disaster, scoring with a quick shot from the slot with 11:19 to play in the game. That goal gave Slovakia a 4-3 victory and delivered it into an expected quarterfinal match against the Swedes, which will be played Wednesday night.
"It's a big relief and now we just have to concentrate on that next game," Slovakia's Richard Zednik told NHL.com. "When we took that 3-1 lead, I think everybody thought we could save something for Sweden. But the other team didn't think so. They put everything they had and in the last period we had to dig deep."
Much like the Swiss, who were pushed to a shootout by the Belarusians in the early game, and the Czechs, who needed overtime to subdue the Latvians, the Slovaks expended far more energy than expected to get to the quarterfinals.
"We just have to turn 360 degrees and play way better, because it is not going to be enough against Sweden," Slovakia's Marian Gaborik told NHL.com
Unbelievably, this game was 3-3 entering the third period as the Norwegians erased leads of 2-0 and 3-1. Plus, the Norwegians played much of the game with a short bench after Ole-Kristian Tollefsen -- the only North American-based player on their roster -- was ejected for an elbow to the head of Slovakia's Lubos Bartecko at the six-minute mark of the first period.
Slovakia scored two goals -- by Michal Handzus and Gaborik --on the ensuing all-you-can-score major penalty for the hit to the head, then added another power-play goal by Zednik very late in the period to take a 3-1 lead into intermission.
"We stopped playing after we scored those goals early in the game," Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara told NHL.com. "We thought it would be easy game and it was totally the opposite."
The Norwegians owned the ice in the second as Slovakia struggled to put anything of merit together.
Vikingstad, who had a hat trick against the Swiss in his last game, made it 3-2 by finishing a pretty passing play. Zuccarello Aasen, who scored the Norwegian's first goal, started the play with a back pass to Thoresen while he was being tripped by a Slovakian defender. Thoresen then threaded a pass to Vikingstad at the far post for a one-timer.
The Norwegians were not satisfied, however. And, they struck again with literally less than one tick left on the clock.
Thoresen, with a secondary assist, set up this goal as well, scored by Anders Bastiansen with one-tenth of a second left in the period. Bastiansen took a pass from Mathias Olimb and sent a knuckling slapper just under the crossbar
Zuccarello Aasen, the third-leading scorer in the Swedish Elite League as a member of MoDo, scored a goal-scorer's goal to start the comeback at the 18:06 mark of the first.
He tried to thread a pass through the legs of Slovakia defenseman Milan Jurcina, but the puck hit Jurcina's shin pad and bounced right back onto Zuccarello Aasen's stick. This time, he used Jurcina as a screen to surprise Jaroslav Halak and thread the puck between Halak's catching-glove arm and his body.
Tuesday night's game was just another chapter in an intriguing Olympic story authored by the never-say-die Norwegians.
"We had some good chances," Zuccarello Aasen told NHL.com. "Of course we should be happy. We're facing NHL players that make 50 million kroner. Of course we should be happy, but it is hard to be happy when you lose."
The Norwegians first earned rave reviews by opening the tournament with a scoreless period against powerful Canada before eventually losing 8-0. Two nights later, Team USA could only manage a 3-1 lead with six minutes remaining in the game before the Americans scored three late goals. Then, on Saturday, the Norwegians gave Switzerland all it could handle before losing 5-4 in OT.
Unfortunately, this game will be remembered as much for the hit on Bartecko as it will for Norway's mesmerizing display of courage and determination.
On the play, Bartecko was carrying the puck across his own blue line with a Norwegian backchecker pushing him toward the boards when Tollefsen cut across the ice and delivered an elbow to Bartecko's head.
Bartecko's helmet flew off on impact and his bare head struck the ice, opening a serious cut that was bleeding freely. Medical personnel were called onto the ice and Bartecko was immobilized before he was stretchered off the ice. Bartecko had movement in his arms as he left the ice surface.
Tollefsen was assessed a five-minute major and a match penalty for the hit. After being treated at Canada Hockey Place, Bartecko was transferred to the medical clinic at the Athletes village and was reported to be in stable condition, according to Peter Dobias, a spokesman for team Sweden.
NOR 1 2 0 - 3
SVK 3 0 1 - 4
1. SVK, Handzus (Gaborik, Hossa) 7:03 (PPG)
2. SVK, Gaborik (Demitra, Chara) 10:12 (PPG)
3. NOR, Zuccarello Aasen (Holos) 18:06
4. SVK, Zednik (Stumpel, Palffy) 18:52 (PPG)
Penalties - Tollefsen NOR (major attempt to injure, misconduct, game misconduct) 6:01, Trygg NOR (holding) 18:20.
5. NOR, Vikingstad (Thoresen, Zuccarello Aasen) 7:27
6. NOR, Bastiansen (Olimb, Thoresen) 19:59
Penalties - Hossa SVK (hooking) 11:55, Jakobsen (holding) 16:29.
7. NOR, Satan (Visnovsky, Zednik) 8:41
SHOTS ON GOAL
NOR 2 10 5 - 19
SVK 21 13 6 - 40
Goaltenders (goals-shots against) - NOR: Grotnes (L, 4-40); SVK: Halak (W, 3-19).
Power plays (goals-chances) - NOR: 0-1; SVK: 3-3.